The Perception and Framing of Political Opportunity and Threat Among Social Movements in Online Space

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Jared WRIGHT, Purdue University, USA
How does collective action operate differently for social movements in online space than in other, more traditional sites of inquiry? Specifically, how might the perception and framing of political opportunities and threats differ in the digital environment than in other contexts that have been studied by movement scholars? Opportunities are often conceptualized as openings which can reduce the cost of collective action, while threat is a force which increases the cost of inaction. But if the affordances of Internet technology can provide new ways of reducing the cost of collective action, might opportunity become less salient for mobilization since cost is already low, while threat becomes more so, particularly for movements which are most adept at leveraging these affordances in pursuit of their goals? To study the perception and interpretation of political opportunities and threats in online space, this study utilizes automated text mining and network analysis to examine archival text corpuses from two online social movements, the Digital Rights movement and the Anonymous hacktivist movement. Analyses confirm that indeed frames of threat appear with much greater frequency than opportunity in the documents, particularly for the Anonymous movement in which frames of opportunity are virtually nonexistent. While earlier scholars have shown that the processes of contention are necessarily spacial, no one has specifically examined how digital space might shape the dynamics of political opportunity and threat. This study shows the importance of such spacial considerations of the digital realm by arguing that when technological affordances are most highly leveraged in online social movements, the cost of collective action becomes so low that political opportunities lose salience as a motivating factor.